Erasmus, Bishop
fl. 1760s

The Orthodox Bishop of Arkadia in Crete arrived in England in 1763 and was befriended by John Wesley as 'a stranger perishing from want'. They conversed in Latin and Greek. With only limited support from fellow clergy and a growing need to supply his followers with the sacraments, Wesley was tempted to see Erasmus as a providential means of obtaining ordination for some of his preachers. He carefully examined his credentials and got John Jones to write to the Patriarch of Smyrna, who confirmed them. John Newton and the Countess of Huntingdon both saw the Bishop as a means of establishing 'a new ministry'. Against Charles Wesley's advice, Jones was ordained by Erasmus at some date before March 1764. But John Wesley soon had cause for misgivings about the legality and advisability of the step; and he was quick to repudiate some of his preachers (including Laurence Coughlan) who, without his knowledge or consent, persuaded Erasmus to ordain them.

Vincent Perronet wrote to Charles Wesley on 30 August 1765: 'I could wish that his Grecian Lordship had been preaching either in Lapland or Japan, instead of putting the whole Methodist Church into confusion.' In 1775 the incident provided Augustus Toplady with the opportunity to accuse Wesley of bribing Erasmus to consecrate him a bishop, so that he might ordain his 'ragged regiment of lay-preachers'. Both Jones and Coughlin later obtained Anglican orders and Wesley waited another 20 years before taking matters into his own hands by ordaining preachers for America. The bishop's authenticity, long a matter of controversy, seems now to have been established.

  • Frank Baker, John Wesley and the Church of England (1970) pp.200-1
  • A.B. Sackett in WHS Proceedings, 38 pp.81-87, 97-102